Friday June 13, 2014, 89 miles (144 km) – Total so far: 1,296 miles (2,085 km)
It’s like they come twirling about on tiptoes – flashing their leggy lengths of recklessness beneath a short skirt of cover. Oh, how far do you want to go? How fast? Just slide out there and get them behind you and away you go. They tease you with possibility. They torment you with incredible memories of times past. They pound into you and push you harder and faster than you ever thought you could desire. Oh, tailwinds, the ultimate seducer. Forget cardinal sins, it’s all about cardinal directions – and which one you are heading toward and which one the wind is coming from.
This early morning, the seduction is coming from the south. At 35 mph sustained. With 54 mph gusts. All night long the wind has been picking up gravel from the parking lot and flinging it at the motel room door with a ferocity reserved for angry lovers throwing breakable items at walls and ex’s heads. It’s been worrying me for all of the hours I was kept awake by the guy on the other side of the motel room wall. Can I ride in that?
But the seduction is there in the back of my mind. I need to go west for a bit, but it will be on a wide shoulder. Then I will be riding north for awhile. If I can survive the crazy crosswind, then that would be the most unbelievable tailwind. I keep thinking: I don’t want to stay here any longer. If it’s really bad, we’ll just come back into town. The wind up at Hot Springs isn’t nearly as crazy as here, according to the NWS. Once we get into the hills, it will be okay. We just have to get through the plains.
And so, with two hours of sleep, I pack up and push out. The guys go in the panniers. I’m afraid there may be a high probability of crashing, and I don’t want them injured or their eyeballs scratched.
Holy craaaaaappp! I am immediately pushed toward the curb and just miss hitting it as I aim for the side road. The crosswind is flapping my jersey! But I can go forward, so I just keep going. I lean into it and somehow manage. If I get pushed all the way to the edge, I just angle back out and brace for the next gust. The shoulder is wide, so it seems do-able. Crazy but okay.
An on-coming semi flashes his lights and honks at me. Shit! I quickly look in my rearview mirror but see nothing. Then I look up at the driver. He is grinning so wide I can see it from over and down here. He has his arm out the window giving me a huge, waving thumbs-up. But I cannot wave back. I cannot let go of the bike or I will go down. I hope he sees me nod and smile.
Then, a few miles out of town, we get to go north.
Heeheeheeheeheeheeheeheee!!!! I am flying. I am barrelling down through the grassland. The road drops to the White River and I’m doing 25 mph without pedalling. It pushes me up out of the river drainage. Woohoooooo! The grin on my face spreads wider for all eight of these miles. It’s ridiculous, but it shoots endorphins through me like heroin through a junkie’s veins.
We start climbing gently. The rolling grassland draws us high into the landscape until we are looking down on impossibly green fields of grass and little lakes and ponds so deeply blue they could be pupils staring back at the sky. Dark clouds are moving off to the east. The western sky shows light blue mixed with wispy white clouds. I pass by two men in full white suits and hoods working from the back of a truck to set out bee boxes. For some time now, the road has been curving northwest as it climbs, and we’ve been doing the weaving crosswind dance down the shoulder. It’s like I’m do-si-do-ing with the seducer.
The road tops out at the state border. There are no signs to welcome me to the state – just orange traffic cones and warnings about road construction. Slowly, they are turning Hwy 385 into the “Heartland Expressway” which will be a four-lane, divided highway from Rapid City to Denver. We rode on part of the future route last year from Scottsbluff to Kimball. Here, all of the traffic is on one side while they lay concrete for the other two lanes.
The road also heads north again at the state border. So off we go flying with that crazy wind. This north-bound section is all downhill, though, so I crank it up and away we soar. Hahahahahahahahaha! If you do not laugh out loud when you are flying along with no effort at 34 mph, there is something wrong with you. I am sometimes doing 37 mph as I careen down that gentle hill. I coast at 31 mph. Heeheeheeheeheeheeheehee!! Some of the construction workers look up from the other side of the road where they are laying concrete. One guy starts clapping. Another whistles. Further up, another guy yells out, “looks like fun”!
Eventually the road heads northwest again after Oelrichs. The road continues dropping and the Black Hills announce their presence as a long low line of trees. Oh pinch me, can it be real to have this much fun so early in the day? I stop pedalling and think I’ll just coast to a stop and put on sunscreen. I never stop. The wind’s been dying down the further we get from that high point at the border, but there is still enough quartering tailwind that I have to brake to stop. Heeheehee!
Hwy 385 climbs through a gap in the hills and we follow it up a canyon, narrow at times, to Hot Springs. The wind ceases. We arrive in town by 10am. I stop at the supermarket and fuel up. I had a look around town here last year (excellent library and Mammoth museum here), so I don’t spend much time in town. I do go up and have a look at the Veteran’s Hospital. It is on the National Historic Register and does have impressive sandstone buildings and architecture. But for some reason it creeps me out – like it’s a low-security prison campus instead of a place of healing.
I pull the guys out of the pannier and they resume their handlebar bag positions. Then we climb the long hill out of town, just as we did last year. We reach the gap – it is considerably greener here this year. We coast down through the open meadows and through the trees. We freak out the other tourists hiding behind their cars taking photos of the buffalo when we ride through ‘unprotected’ – I did cross to the other side of the road, so didn’t worry too much. I just took pictures as I rode!
This year I head west on 385, instead of north on 87, just so I can see new scenery. After you exit Wind Cave National Park, the road becomes wide and has a shoulder. The pine forest grows down to the road which curves around the hills following a creek. There are some long pulls, where there are uphill passing lanes, but nothing steep. We just pedal and pedal. I’m in some sort of groove. Verne is happy about that. There are not too many demands of “faster” coming from up front.
We get spit out of the narrow valleys at Pringle. I try the Mickelson Trail, but it closely follows the road. The gravel knocks down my speed. So I just get back out on the highway. It is very busy from Pringle to Custer. And now I’ve got a headwind that is building. Clouds are accumulating, too. It is supposed to storm this afternoon. So I just put my head down and crank it out. Granite ridges crop out among the thick trees. We are back to that easy aesthetic of park-like meadows and pine forest.
I end up in Custer around 1pm. I’m starving! I head to DQ for a Smores Blizzard. The line is long. I get to conversing with motorcyclists while we wait for the cheerful but somewhat incapable staff to process all the orders. The motorcyclists can’t believe I’ve ridden here from Chadron today. Ha! They don’t know about my long-time lover, the wind. It gave this morning, and took, this afternoon. And now I’m spent, but happy. As you always are when you’ve cavorted with a seducer. What a fantastic but exhausting day!